Opinion, Reasoning, and Fact

A lot of people can’t tell the difference between Opinion, Reasoning, and Fact. Those three things all jumble together in their minds as being the same thing.

An opinion is a conclusion, an assertion.

“My opinion is that covid-19 is much more dangerous to people who have heart disease than to other people.”
“Why do you think that?”
“I don’t know. It’s just my opinion. But I have a PhD in economics.”

Should you believe my opinion about heart disease and covid? Maybe. I am, at least, a PhD in economics, so I must be pretty smart. But I might well be a crank, and I could even be lying about the PhD. And there’s not much reason to value someone’s opinion if you don’t know them and don’t have any reason to think they’re smart or dependable. If they just answer “I don’t know” when you ask them their reason, you should disregard their opinion. It’s worthless. And that would be true even if they had good credentials.

Reasoning is an explanation.

I figure that Covid-19 is much more dangerous to people who have heart disease than to other people. If you have congestive heart disease, then wouldn’t lack of oxygen from congested lungs be much dangerous? If so, then symptoms which might just make other people sick could kill you if you have a bad heart.”

Should you believe my reasoning? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how good it is, and how it affects your own reasoning. The reasoning above is pretty weak, but it’s plausible. If you are a doctor, you might be able to dismiss it (“Heart attacks are never caused by low oxygen levels”) or extend it (“Yes: and covid constricts blood vessels, an additional reason why it’s dangerous to people with bad hearts). Note that Reasoning depends on the reasoning itself, not the reasoner. Whether I have a PhD or not shouldn’t matter to Reasoning qua Reasoning, though often we look at reasoning and accept it as Opinion even if we don’t understand what it says.

A Fact is a reported observation.

“Covid-19 is much more dangerous to people who have heart disease than to other people, the CDC tells us at “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)” as updated August 14, 2020,

What is the Fact here is a bit elusive. What is undoubtedly a Fact is that the CDC said heart disease makes covid-19 more dangerous on August 14, 2020. Is it a Fact that heart disease actually does make covid-19 more dangerous? I think so, but Facts, like Opinions and Reasoning, can be mistaken. In English, we treat “Fact” as meaning “True Fact”, but it might be better if we distinguished between True Facts and False Facts, instead of labelling the assertions as Facts and False Claims. In discussions, though, Facts are taken to be commonly agreed upon observations. Also note that though I personally observed that the CDC said this, you have not seen it until you tap the link I provided, which you may never do.

And what I am reporting really might be considered the CDC’s Opinion, rather than a Fact. I assume that the CDC has some reason to make this claim, and that the reason is not just Reasoning, but observation: that they have looked at many cases and seen elevated death rates from covid-19 in people with heart disease. Truthfully, I actually don’t assume this, or wouldn’t if something important depended on it. The CDC is so incompetent that it may well have just relied on Reasoning as simple and crude as my example above, without looking at the data at all. It may not even have the data. And it probably doesn’t know how to interpret data. They say that “Cancer” increases your risk from covid-19, for example. I wonder about that. It’s plausible that any kind of ill health puts you at greater risk– though in that case, they should be listing “Poor Health”, not specific conditions– but why should brain cancer put you at greater risk from a lung illness? Another example is kidney disease. I just checked on that one, and s the JOhns Hopkins med school site writes in Coronavirus: Kidney Damage Caused by COVID-19 that covid-19 causes kidney damage in various ways. Of course, this is more dangerous if you don’t have well-functioning kidneys to begin with, but could it be that the CDC is noting that many people who die of covid-19 have bad kidneys and are not noting that their kidneys were fine before they got covid?

Some people suffering with severe cases of COVID-19 are showing signs of kidney damage, even those who had no underlying kidney problems before they were infected with the coronavirus. Early reports say that up to 30% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in China and New York developed moderate or severe kidney injury. Reports from doctors in New York are saying the percentage could be higher.

Signs of kidney problems in patients with COVID-19 include high levels of protein in the urine and abnormal blood work.

The kidney damage is, in some cases, severe enough to require dialysis. Some hospitals experiencing surges of patients who are very ill with COVID-19 have reported they are running short on the machines and sterile fluids needed to perform these kidney procedures.

“Many patients with severe COVID-19 are those with co-existing, chronic conditions, including high blood pressure and diabetes. Both of these increase the risk of kidney disease,” Sperati says.

So, keep in mind that Fact, Reasoning, and Opinion all have their deficiencies.

At the same time, one thing I’ve seen a lot of on Twitter is the idea that everybody’s Opinion is equally valuable. That, of course, is absolutely and totally false, and nobody really believes it. Twitter is bad for Reasoning, since Reasoning require space to explain. It is actually good for Fact, since any Internet medium makes it easy to add links to sources– tho most people don’t add links. It is mostly Opinion. But why should I care about your opinion? Why should anybody? Why should you? If you have nothing to back it up, or show us no reason to think you know what you’re talking about, all you’re doing is clogging up the web with garbage. We don’t care about your feelings. Your mother cares– maybe– but why tell the rest of us? I am rough, because this is one of the Internet’s biggest problems. It destroys comment sections on blogs and articles, where 90% of comments are variations on “I agree” , “I disagree”, or “I want to insult you.” It destroys civility. (Am I being uncvil? No– I am saying you are a pest, but in a civil way, as is quite possible– sometimes the substance of discussion is what hurts, not the manner.) It encourages narcissism, arrogance, and self-pity, as people push their Opinions as if they had some value and are disappointed when other people act if as the Opinion of someone with a Nobel Prize is worth more than the Opinion of a college student. In aggregate, the Opinionated group together to form another problem, Public Opinion. By valuing each other’s Opinion, when there is no reason to do so, they flatter themselves that they are more likely to be correct. “If everybody is saying it, it’s got to be true, right?” This is a sclassic problem in democracies and America, as de Tocqueville teaches us and as we see throughout history from the trial of Socrates to the Salem Witch Trials to the Cancellings of 2020.

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